Hit the Road, Jacques: Jacques Barzun
and The Lost Art Box
The Immortal Double A Side 45’s
by Kevin M. Harvey
Alone now in the frozen desserts, as distracted as a golem, the dream station hits me with "GLAD ALL OVER" and I forced to confront the great mystery of the Dave Clark 5. They might have been awful; they might have been gifted: no one alive ever saw them actually playing their instruments. They looked ridiculous in their Doctor Kildare shirts and WHITE pants, but….GLAD ALL OVER holds a groove! Of course, the fact that no one in the band could solo assures this. And yet there
is something so transcendently stupid about the proto-Cookie Monster vocal that hearing it, unexpectedly, in Trader Joe’s, I am unashamedly glad all over… yet these goons were on the Sullivan show two-hundred times and never once approached the two sided magnificence of "8 Days A Week" and "I Don’t Want to Spoil The Party" - let alone "She’s A Woman" and "I Feel Fine." Now I always thought the secret of the Woman/Fine single lay in the fact that McCartney was singing the Lennon tune and Lennon Paul’s. Transpose the parts in your mind: Lennon should have been singing WOMAN. Hell, a rhythm part is playing over the lead and who didn’t feel fine if not McCartney?
And the two sides, equal in their way, made a wonderful whole.
Unable to make sense of the frozen sweets, it is the winter of 1965 for me now and I am thinking that it is entirely possible that "We Can Work It Out" and "Day Tripper" created the winter of ’65. "We Can Work It Out" came out of car radios in jammed traffic with all the beauty of prayer; the photo on the sleeve, sepia and silent, the filter through which I viewed the world. And "Day Tripper," sexy, funny, brash and shuddering, was a B side? No, it was one half of a flawless something,
a masterpiece that led to "Paperback Writer" and "Rain," of all things. Who wrote singles about pulp fiction hacks? Why not dousers? It was sideways to all expectations and "Rain," a track about the weather, was proto-psychedelia that pulled the mind into wet gardens, leaves as black as the one’s in the park in Blow-Up! And by the final aisle in the market, I am muttering to myself about the greatest ART BOX SINGLE of
Here is the argument that must be made: The "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" single is greater than Sgt. Pepper. It is superior to Pepper in the way that Dubliners is superior to Portrait, and as extraordinary an achievement as Joyce’s impossible collection. The single, like Joyce’s collection, is concerned with childhood, daily life, memory and death. Compact in scope, it was capable of being perfected. No more demanding a piece of avant garde art ever went down so well with the general public: hearing it on the radio before buying it, it was jaw-dropping in its inter-dimensional elegance, and yet dopes were humming it! Having a hit single with such stuff was as likely as Un Chien Andalou having a bigger opening weekend than Gone With The Wind. It was like Herbert Hoover saying he thought Duchamp’s upside-down urinal was a gas. It was impossible. And yet there it was:
a perfect package, two beautiful mind-movies, Fields and Lane, complete with a cover shot of four beautiful hipsters, letting us know that it was their century after all. Georgie Fame’s "Yeah, Yeah" is playing and I
am trying to get out of the store.
So as I say, I’ve been thinking about boxes lately; and how Jacques Barzun thinks we’ve perfected the FORM, the Art-Box, at the expense of content, that a decadent society, having accepted futility, is now content with mere packaging, and I am forced to take the argument
a step further: Allow me my belief that the 45 single was an Art Box capable of greatness and do me a favor - take the titles of twenty songs by any singer working today and drop them in a derby - use a box for Barzun’s sake - and then drop in twenty random movie titles. Reach
into the box and pull out a title. Tell me, who sang Twilight? Are The Terminators still doing speed metal? So in spite of the fact that Barzun missed the 45, Bill Elder, and Kiss Me Deadly, let’s grant him his take: We ARE decadent; the empire has at last collapsed in on itself, and the boxes, perfected all, are empty. And would you like to see the first perfect moment of our cultural decline? Sure. Why not? Ronald Reagan is crossing the White House lawn; he is tanned and smiling; he is wearing jodhpurs and his mind is empty. He waves and no one laughs at his jodhpurs. He is lovely, even perfect in his way, and he is empty. There. You thought I’d forgotten I’d mentioned old Ronnie. Put on "We Can Work It Out" and hold on to the thought that The Beatles knew what they were talking about.